Manhunt Follows Shooting of Judge at Courthouse

Judge was shot through the chest by apparent sniper at his family court facility


A manhunt was on early Tuesday for a pawn shop owner suspected in a killing at his estranged wife's building and wanted for questioning in the shooting of a judge involved with his divorce case.

Police shut down a six-block area Monday and searched for Darren Roy Mack after Family Court Judge Chuck Weller was shot in the chest by an apparent sniper through the window of his third floor office in the Washoe County courthouse complex on the edge of the downtown casino district.

Weller, 53, who in past years gave legal advice on a local radio station and in a column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, was rushed to a hospital where he was reported in serious but stable condition as SWAT teams searched parking garages, high-rise construction sites and a neighboring movie theater.

Flights were suspended for about an hour at Reno-Tahoe International Airport late Monday night and some planes were searched after a police SWAT team responded to a reported sighting of Mack's sports utility vehicle at an airport parking garage, but it turned out to be a false alarm, authorities said.

"The lead was strong enough that police responded with a large group of officers," airport spokesman Brian Kulpin told The Associated Press. "The entire airport was searched and will continue to be searched. We're in a hyper state of vigilance."

Mack is a suspect in the killing reported at the apartment building and a "person of interest" in the shooting at the courthouse, Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.

The killing at the apartment and the courthouse shooting apparently happened within hours of each other, police said. Reno police spokesman Steve Frady said police would not comment further until a news conference scheduled for Tuesday.

Authorities were withholding the name of the victim. But the apartment was home to Mack's estranged wife, Charla Mack, 39, according to a background check by the Internet search engine Intelius. A call to her apartment was not returned Monday night.

Darren Mack "had recent dealings with the judge and the family court section" in his divorce, Johns said, calling it "an obvious connection." But he said police "do not have enough information to say he is a suspect" in Weller's shooting.

According to Washoe County District Court records, Charla Mack filed for divorce on Feb. 7, 2005. A two-day custody hearing was scheduled before Weller for Sept. 7 of this year and a mutual restraining order was signed in May 2005, according to court records.

Weller was shot in the chest "at least once" by a "high velocity projectile, possibly a rifle," Johns said. He was conscious "and talking with his family," Frady said Monday afternoon.

Weller's administrative assistant, Annie Allison, was hit by bullet fragments in her arm and hip, but her wounds were superficial, and she was treated and released, Frady said.

Mack worked at a Reno jewelry store and pawn shop within a few blocks from the courthouse. Mack's photograph, along with his wife and three children, appears on a Web site advertising the sale of diamonds and other jewelry.

On the Web site, he wrote: "My name is Darren Mack, and I am the third generation owner of a small business in Reno, Nevada. My family has owned and operated small businesses in Nevada for 45 years."

Weller, a lawyer who graduated from Georgetown University Law School in 1977, was elected to the bench in 2004. "He's a nice guy and real hardworking," said Reno Justice of the Peace Harold Albright.

"The incident is shocking, but the risk is not shocking," said Darin Conforti, court administrator of Reno Justice Court. "We're well aware this is the inherent risk of trying to solve conflicts. Sometimes you don't solve them peacefully and people take the law into their own hands."

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Associated Press writers Martin Griffith and Tom Gardner in Reno, Brendan Riley in Carson City and Christina Almeida in Los Angeles also contributed to this report.


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